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Is the U.S. at war with ISIS?
02:10 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

John Kerry will not use the term war to describe Washington's impending military action

Others in the Obama administration are describing it as war, in a certain way

State Department spokeswoman: "It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil"

CNN  — 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will not use the term war to describe Washington’s impending military action against the jihadist group ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but others in the Obama administration aren’t shying away from the word.

What’s in a name?

On Wednesday night, the war-stopping, Nobel Peace Prize-winning President used a nationally televised address to announce a plan to “dismantle and ultimately destroy” the Sunni jihadists who have taunted America by beheading two captive U.S. journalists.

“We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” he said. “That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.”

The administration, of course, prefers the term ISIL while many others go with ISIS, but that’s another story.

The seeds of uncertainly over what to call the ISIS-ISIL campaign were planted by Kerry on Thursday, who told CNN in an interview that the United States was not at war with ISIS, saying the administration’s strategy includes “many different things that one doesn’t think of normally in context of war.”

“What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation,” Kerry told CNN’s Elise Labott in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “It’s going to go on for some period of time. If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL, they can do so, but the fact is it’s a major counterterrorism operation that will have many different moving parts.”

On Thursday, Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf sought to clarify the lexicon of the anti-ISIS campaign.

“Well, I know there has been a lot of questions about what words we use but as the president said the other night this is a very different campaign from the Iraq War, the last time we used that term,” she said. “It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. We utilize our air superiority and support for partner forces on the ground.”

Instead, she calls the action “a steady, relentless counterterrorism campaign to take out ISIL wherever they exist.”

“This is not also America’s war with ISIL,” she added. “The world is joining us in the fight because of the threat they pose to countries in the regions. So we are at war with ISIL in the same way we are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates around the world.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Friday said it was ISIL that had “indicated that they are ready to go to war against the world and this president, as is expected of American presidents, is stepping up to lead an international coalition to confront that threat.”

He added, “Ultimately, this international coalition will be responsible for degrading and destroying ISIL. So I think what you can conclude from this is the United States is at war with ISIL the same way that we are at war with al Qaeda and al Qaeda affiliates all around the globe.”

The Pentagon had a similar take.

The United States is at war with ISIL “in the same way we’re at war and continue to be at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates,” press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

“There’s not going to be a purely military solution to the threat that ISIL poses in the region, specifically inside Iraq,” Kirby said. “There’s not going to be a military solution here.”